December 17th, 2006


Flickr is good, flicker is bad.

So, you may have heard that somewhere in the neighborhood of a million homes (or a million people?) in the Seattle area were without power.

From 10am to 9:30pm on Wednesday, and then from 4:30pm to somewhere between 11am and 3pm today (Sunday), I've been blessed with the opportunity to explore less electrical, less internetted, less heated, less lit lifestyles.

When I bought this house, it was a few months shy of Y2K and people weren't sure if there was going to be power after the digits rolled over. Or banks, or whatever. So, the previous owners of the house thought ahead and got this house wired to be run off a generator, and purchased a generator. Part of the conditions of purchase of the house was that they'd leave the generator, which just worked out - their new home wasn't set up to run off the generator (I can only assume), and I didn't really want to run out and buy a generator if I ended up really needing one.

When I moved in, I got a sheaf of papers, including blueprints to the house, various local mailers that gave me information about local services, and an envelope of information about the generator - including the manufacturer's instructions, as well as the previous owners' instructions. There are 27 steps in operating the generator, and this intimidated me.

I've mentioned the generator to Dad, and every time there's a flicker in the power, he suggests that I run the generator. I know I'm irrational about this, but a full page of bullet points talking about how to operate this device makes me nervous - to the point where I decided the "break even point" would be about one day - if I did not expect to have power for the next day, I'd hook up the generator.

But seriously, who ever expects to be out of power for more than a day?

Thursday night, I was without power, but I was hoping it'd come back at any time. Friday morning, I woke to a cold house, and the battery-powered radio told me that some people in the Seattle area might not get power for another week. This seemed crazy long, and knowing that I'm out in the booniest of the suburbs, I resigned myself to a long stretch of cold.

I stayed with my folks Friday night, which gave me the luxury of food (restaurant AND home cooked) and showers (two of them, both hot) and lights (electrical, not just candle). I came back to a dark house on Saturday (I would have stayed with my folks for longer, but I had volunteered to usher for Second Story Repertory Theatre, and a man's gotta make good on his commitments, even if he's got no warm water at home).

I spent much of the afternoon scouring the neighborhood for oil, gas, and a big gas can so as to make the generator go. The radio was saying that "Rural Woodinville" was going to be one of the last areas to get power back, and that seemed to describe my home. 27 bullet points to go. I wasn't able to find a big gas can, so I filled up a meager 2 gallon guy that I already had. On my way home, the traffic light on the big intersection near my house was working again, which gave me some hope that power might be on at home, but then the traffic light at the smaller intersection closer to my house was out, so my hopes retreated again.

As I drew close to my home, the air was filled with smoke (fog? steam?) which worried me. Did somebody's house catch fire in the neighborhood? Did MY house catch fire? I blew out all candles before I left. I think. Oh, phew, no - nothing to worry about - the neighbors just built a bonfire to dispose of all the downed tree limbs.

Pulling up to my house, I was relieved to see it wasn't a charred hulk, but it looked the same as I had left it... except - what's that odd plume emanating from the house? Did a cinder from the neighbor's bonfire land on the roof and ignite it?

I parked my car and darted to the end of the driveway to get a better angle at this unexpected pillar of smoke (fog? steam?).

Huh, it looks like it's coming from the chimney from the heater. How could that be? The heater can't run without electricity.

It's a sign of how slowly I think when I get chilly that I walked the length of my driveway and let myself into the house before I considered the possibility that the electricity might have been restored, and of course the heater would then turn on and go about the task at de-equilibrating the house temperature.

I think that at 7am today, the inside temperature was 38F, compared with an outside temperature of 30F. When I walked in the door, the inside temperature was up to 50F, and a few minutes later, up to 52F.

Whee. The joys of electricity.

I'm going to go discard the contents of my refrigerator. Tidings of comfort and joy.